Chronic trauma and a clarification about my Israel/Palestine post

“Israel is about as well-governed as you’d expect from a country run by people with PTSD in one of the most volatile regions in the world.” This sentence in your recent post feels uncomfortably close to perpetuating a poor stereotype of both abuse survivors and people with PTSD, or like a joke in poor taste at their expense. I think I get what you meant it’s just, in my opinion, very poorly phrased.

realsocialskills replied:

Agreed. I should have phrased that differently. I haven’t really tried to discuss anything related to Israel on this blog before. I was assuming certain context that I didn’t actually explain. I don’t talk about Israel very much, and when I do, it’s usually in a context in which people know that I’m a rabbi and a disabled disability advocate. (People often also know that I have significantly disabling trauma.) That context matters more than I realized. I’m sorry I wrote it that way, I see what it looked like I meant now that people have pointed it out to me.

One thing that I want to be clear about now: I did not mean that as an insult. Part of what I meant is that trauma makes everything harder, and that it’s a factor in why the situation is so intractable. I absolutely was *not* saying that people with PTSD shouldn’t be in leadership roles. And in any case, in Israel/Palestine, there is no alternative. If you couldn’t have traumatized people in leadership roles, it would be difficult to find anyone to govern. That doesn’t mean that the situation can’t get better — it means that it’s *hard*. 

(This is one of the many reasons why I believe that people who want to help should support efforts that are led by Israelis and/or Palestinians and located primarily in Israel/Palestine.)

Some of the things I’ve most appreciated about spending time in Israel are directly related to how normal trauma is there. PTSD is really a misnomer — the situation in Israel/Palestine is chronically traumatic. In Israel, there’s much more serious conversation about resilience in the face of chronic trauma than I’ve ever found in the US. (I’m saying Israel specifically because I’m directly familiar with Israeli culture and I am not directly familiar with Palestinian culture.)

In the US, the conversation about trauma tends to be “You need to get past what happened and let go of it so you can get on with your life.” In Israel, it’s more like “Whether or not things ever get better, we have to live our lives.” (Pronoun choice deliberate; Israel is much more collectivized than the US, which is a cultural can of worms I’m not going to get into in more detail in this post.)

A lot of populations in the US face chronic traumatization, and there’s very little discussion here about how to deal with that. There’s a tendency to inappropriately apply a *post*-traumatic recovery model along the lines of “You went through something terrible, but you’re safe now. Let’s help you to feel safe.” That model is really inappropriate for people who aren’t safe and aren’t likely to be safe any time soon. We need more things that help people in unsafe situations cope psychologically and build as many good things in their life as they can. 

For example, group homes are not safe places. More generally, disability service provision systems are not safe. They’re safer than they used to be, but the rate of abuse is still very high. It is irresponsible to say “you’re safe now” to someone who is statistically likely to be harmed again in the future. It’s irresponsible to say “People can’t heal until they are safe”, and leave it at that. There are a lot of people who aren’t likely to be safe any time soon, and their lives matter *now*.

Safety is not a prerequisite for growth, and it’s not a prerequisite for having good things in your life. We need to do better for people in unsafe situations. We need more space to say “Being hurt matters, and it’s not the only thing that matters,” and more competence to say “Here are some things that often help.” Safety is important, and we should work for it — and we can’t let that be the only thing we do. (Related: “It gets better” is often worth saying, but it can’t be the end all and be all of how we express “Your life is worth living”.)

This matters in service provision and it also matters in activist community. I think that we need a much broader conversation about resilience. We’re fighting for survival and for critically important rights. We can’t abandon these fights and we also can’t afford to treat victory as a prerequisite for valuing our lives. We have to live. I think a significant part of that is finding ways to strengthen each other, and seeking out every form of growth and resilience available to us. 

I have more to say on all of this, but I haven’t found the words to say it yet.